• Strategy
  • The Economist

Survey: The Near Future

Peter Drucker explains how it will differ from today, and what needs to be done to prepare for it.

The two industrial revolutions also bred new theories and new ideologies. The Communist Manifesto was a response to the first industrial revolution; the political theories that together shaped the 20th-century democracies — Bismarck’s welfare state, Britain’s Christian Socialism and Fabians, America’s regulation of business — were all responses to the second one. So was Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “scientific management” (starting in 1881), with its productivity explosion.

Big Ideas

Following the information revolution, once again we see the emergence of new institutions and new theories. The new economic regions — the European Union, NAFTA and the proposed Free-Trade Area of the Americas — are neither traditionally free-trade nor traditionally protectionist. They attempt a new balance between the two, and between the economic sovereignty of the national state and supranational economic decision-making. Equally, there is no real precedent for the Citigroups, Goldman Sachses or ING Barings that have come to dominate world finance. They are not multinational but transnational. The money they deal in is almost totally beyond the control of any country’s government or central bank.

And then there is the upsurge in interest in Joseph Schumpeter’s postulates of “dynamic disequilibrium” as the economy’s only stable state; of the innovator’s “creative destruction” as the economy’s driving force; and of new technology as the main, if not the only, economic change agent — the very antithesis of earlier economic theories based on the idea of equilibrium as a healthy economy’s norm, monetary and fiscal policies as the drivers of a modern economy and technology as an “externality”.

All this suggests that the greatest changes are almost certainly still ahead of us. We can also be sure that the society of 2030 will be very different from that of today, and that it will bear little resemblance to that predicted by today’s best-selling futurists. It will not be dominated or even shaped by information technology. IT will, of course, be important, but it will be only one of several important new technologies. The central feature of the next society, as of its predecessors, will be new institutions and new theories, ideologies and problems.

Peter Drucker is a writer, teacher and consultant who has published 32 books, mostly on various aspects of society, economics, politics and management. Born in 1909 in Vienna, Mr Drucker was educated in Austria and England, and holds a doctorate from Frankfurt University. Since 1971 he has been Professor of Social Science and Management at Claremont Graduate University, California.

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